Kith: Tales from the Fractured Plateaus - Issue #1: Fetch Quest
As a young guard in the town of Kith, Burb gets all the worst jobs and today is no exception. Woken from pleasant slumber by his superior officer, he is sent on an important mission. The mayor is due to make a speech today, but he has lost his voice again. Burb’s job is to pay a visit to the local witch and get a potion to bring back his vocal talents. But when you live in a town suspended above a dark void, nothing is ever simple. The bridge to the witch’s home is broken, and Burb must find a way to fix it if he is going to get the potion he seeks.
Kith: Tales from the Fractured Plateaus - Issue #1: Fetch Quest starts up a proposed new series from Screwy Lightbulb. The graphics are presented in an isometric view rendered entirely in black and white. Apart from the monochromatic colour scheme, the characters and scenery are rendered realistically, with Burb a well-built young man and the streets paved with irregular cobblestones. That is not to say the town is a normal one however, with those same streets bounded by a chain barrier with a vertiginous drop on the other side. Burb is simply but effectively animated. When in conversation, close-up stills of the other characters are presented, with their expressions suitably matched to the circumstances. A cheery tune written to mimic the style of medieval minstrels plays throughout, accompanied by a never-ending wind blowing from the abyss.
Control is performed through simple left-click. Normally this will cause the protagonist to walk to the spot you clicked on, should that be possible. When you point the cursor at an interactive object or person, a little eye appears next to it, and clicking on it brings up a brief description. If further actions are possible, icons will be attached to this description, such as a speech bubble to indicate conversation, which can be clicked to take that action. Unable to reach the town herself, the witch won’t aid you until you have fixed her bridge. This involves finding a way to distract another guard, and mixing up a potion of your own. The void and the monsters that lurk within it are touched upon within this story, setting things up for future instalments. Despite these indications of a horrific backstory, however, the overall tone of this debut episode is light fantasy.
Kith: Tales from the Fractured Plateaus - Issue #1: Fetch Quest can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Interactive Fiction Competition 2016
Now in its 22nd year, the annual competition for text adventures shows no signs of stopping. Indeed, it seems to be growing, with an eye-watering 58 entries this time. Entries included improvised vampire slaying, a museum full of small stories, and a tale inspired by the author’s own life. With many available to play directly within a browser, there is less need to go to the trouble of installing interpreters than there has been in the past as well. The entire list of games, with links to download them or play online, can be found at the competition’s website. From the long list on offer, the following three took the top places this year.
Detectiveland by Robin Johnson
The year is 1929 and in New Losago, private investigator Lanson Rose is looking for work. Fortunately he doesn’t need to go far, as three cases are waiting right outside his office door. A liquor supply problem in the city needs dealing with. A wife is looking for her missing scientist husband. A dilapidated old mansion is home to some strange events. Even for a grizzled old hand like Lanson, used to the rough ways of the city, this could prove a full day’s work.
The overall setting of Detectiveland is a noir detective thriller in plain black and white, but presentation is very much tongue-in-cheek. The game does not have a text parser; instead the left side of the screen displays a transcript of the action, presented as if typed by a typewriter with some badly misaligned keys. The right side of the screen is split into sections, including conversations (where appropriate), general actions, the item you are holding and a list of your inventory. Each has buttons appropriate to its respective section to click on, such as a list of topics to discuss. These change depending on information discovered, and what you are holding at the time (which can easily be swapped by clicking on another inventory item). The three cases can be played in any order, or even run simultaneously if desired. Solutions require careful enquiry, diligent searching and use of inventory. Some puzzles also have more than one solution.
Color the Truth by mathbrush
Rosalita Morales, a popular radio personality, has been shot dead. Four people closely associated with her have been called in for questioning: her sister, her partner, her ex and her secretary. Each has their own tale of what happened that day and each had the means and motive to commit the crime. It is up to you to expose the contradictions in their testimonies and, by eliminating the lies, reach the truth of events on that fateful day.
Whilst Color the Truth uses a traditional parser in plain black-on-white text, the vocabulary is limited and the player is given significant guidance. The four suspects have been called to the studio where the murder was committed, each sequestered in a separate room. You move between these rooms, questioning them on topics and taking their statements. When doing the latter, the action switches to that character acting out their movements on the day of the murder. These open up new topics for discussion, returning you to the present when they conclude. The key to the game is linking topics that expose discrepancies in what you have been told. These in turn lead to revised statements and ultimately reveal who the murderer is.
Cactus Blue Motel by Astrid Dalmady
It is the summer after high school and you, Lex and Becky are taking a road trip across the desert. The darkness of night is pierced by a neon sign attracting you to an oasis of sorts in the endless sands, the Cactus Blue Motel. Whilst not the most attractive of resorts, it seems as good a place as any to stop for some rest. But as the night reaches its height, a strange transformation takes place. The Cactus Blue Motel is more than it seems, and the decisions you make here could prove fateful.
This game uses the Twine engine, with light text on a dark blue background and interactions chosen from a list of options or from highlighted words within the descriptive text. The emphasis here is on the storytelling, with puzzles being more about choosing a path to follow than seeking out a right solution. The setting has elements of the fantastical to it, but the narrative itself is very much grounded in the real world. Both the protagonist and the characters she meets feel like well-rounded characters with lives beyond the story being told here. Though I played it through to an ending I found satisfying, the gameplay implies that multiple endings are possible by making different choices along the way.
Other new releases
Not all games are created equal, and freeware games especially come in all shapes and sizes. Not to be overlooked, the following list might also be of interest, though these games may be significantly shorter or less polished, more experimental titles than those detailed above, some perhaps only borderline adventures to begin with.
Three Little Pigs and a Wolf by Kostas Monastiridis – Relive the story in this "remediation" of the classic tale made for the "Narratives in Digital Culture" course at Aalborg University Denmark.
Omnichronic by KaffeBaggel – A pirate is given the ability to travel through time, and must use it to prevent his own murder in this blackly comic tale.
That’s it for this month. Think we’ve missed a gem or want to tell us about your own game? Then pop in to our Adventure forum and tell us about it!
Article written by Stephen Brown and Willem Tjerkstra.